Capello puts youth to the test
When Fabio Capello sat in a room in Rustenburg surrounded by the wreckage of England's World Cup campaign, the cry for youth to be given its chance reached a crescendo.
The established order had failed again - quite spectacularly even by their standards in South Africa - and Capello reeled off a hastily-assembled list of the younger generation who would now come into contention.
Some were not even young, such as Owen Hargreaves and Bobby Zamora, while two names not mentioned were Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll and Sunderland's Jordan Henderson, so it is a credit to the rapid development of these rising stars of the north-east that they will make their debuts against France on Wednesday.
The demand for youth to be given its head is the default response for any international team in trouble - but former England rugby union international turned columnist and commentator Brian Moore called it spot on when he said the advice was "trendy but useless."
Capello would gain no mileage by casting aside all England's experience and trusting entirely to youngsters. And then there is the small of matter of whether the emerging players are actually good enough. It is a cry that is easier said than done.
But there should be enough of a mix-and-match on show for England against France to give Capello some sort of signpost to the future.
Carroll and Henderson are at the starting point of the road to discovery against France, as is Arsenal's excellent young left-back Kieran Gibbs as he wins his second cap. It all adds intrigue to an international that will be played before a sell-out Wembley.
And there is further promise for Capello to explore too. Manchester City's Adam Johnson looks a natural at England level while Theo Walcott will develop under the watchful eye of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and hopefully see rich potential come to fruition.
There might have been further fresh-faced additions had Arsenal's Jack Wilshere been fit, although he looked jaded at Goodison Park on Sunday, while Everton's Jack Rodwell is back with England under-21s after recovering from knee surgery.
So while declining to announce this young brigade as the men, or boys, to take England to Euro 2012 and beyond, it seems there is plenty of talent worthy of Capello's further investigation.
If there is one personal carp with Capello's squad, it is the inexplicable (well inexplicable to me anyway) treatment of Bolton Wanderers striker Kevin Davies. What was it that the 33-year-old did in his brief cameo as substitute against Montenegro and on England duty that convinced Capello he was unworthy of reselection?
To select a 28-year-old Championship player in the shape of Cardiff City's Jay Bothroyd ahead of him, and then call up West Ham United's Carlton Cole when Carroll emerged as a doubt, added insult to injury. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for Davies.
But for now the attention will switch to the new young debutants, and particularly to the turbulent but talented figure of 21-year-old giant Carroll as he leads England's attack.
The selection of Bothroyd was bold, but also alarming in that it pointed to England's cupboard being bare when it came to attacking resources, with Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent out injured.
It also underlined what an opportunity Carroll has to cement a place in England's future should he carry his promising club form into the international arena. The raw materials are in place, but there is much to do and there should not be an excess of expectation placed on his shoulders.
The fact that Carroll's emergence has caused such excitement is not just a response to his performances, but an indicator of the lack of high-class options for England up front.
Carroll has the physical strength to trouble defences, and as Capello said his movement is intelligent, but is he a real England striker in the making? Wednesday will tell us more.
He has had well-chronicled off-field problems which Capello addressed forcefully at Wembley on Tuesday, and if he needed an incentive to focus solely on his football then surely the prospect of establishing himself as an England international should do the trick.
Alan Shearer, a great striker for Newcastle and England, applies simple logic to insist Carroll is the man for Capello, saying: "Who is playing better than him? Nobody. Who is scoring more goals than him? Nobody. He's not the finished article, but get him in there and let's have a look at him."
The second half of Shearer's statement also applies to Sunderland's Henderson, who has drawn rave reviews from boss Steve Bruce and attracted attention from Manchester United and Chelsea.
A good all-round talent who has flourished for Sunderland this season, he is also some distance from being the finished article but the opinion of many sound judges suggests Capello is right to test him against France.
The presence of Carroll and Henderson in particular transforms this routine friendly into a game of real interest. Capello's view is not exactly long-term - it stretches to less than two years hence - but he will be looking for new players to integrate into his plans and the Italian will be paying particular attention to the youngsters against Laurent Blanc's side.
France no longer present the stern test of old, but they will still deliver an examination of how Capello can combine his experienced players such as Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry with the new, young blood.
As talk turns to the future with Carroll and Henderson, what of a member of the old guard, John Terry?
Terry has struggled with injury since the World Cup and has missed all of England's Euro 2012 qualifiers - and now the fear is he faces months on the sidelines with a nerve problem in his right leg.
The Chelsea captain has been a fine servant for England, but is he a realistic option for 2012 in the light of his frail fitness and his now regular absences from the squad?
Everton's Phil Jagielka has done a fine job when he has deputised in the absence of Ferdinand and Terry, and it may be time to thank the latter for his services and move on.
England and Capello hope Carroll, Henderson and Gibbs will offer a glimpse into the future at Wembley on Wednesday. It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how Terry, stricken again, can be a reliable part of it.